All original work © 2009 - 2017 Alexey Provolotsky

15 October 2012

ALMOST FALLING


- Jane, – I said. – Stop doing that.

- Doing what? – asked Jane, giving me that black, sizzling look of hers.

- The book, – I said.

Still, she didn’t understand, and I decided to drop it. The rain outside made me listless and wan, and besides, that whole book routine seemed perfectly self-evident. Jane wouldn’t let it lie, though; something she never did.

- What are you talking about?

- It’s a library, for Christ’s sake. Library. And considering that your research isn’t exactly about venereal diseases or something...

- Venereal diseases?

- Yes, Jane. And even if it was.

At which point I quickly stretched my arm across the desk and, crudely cutting through the well-organized mess of Jane’s notes, paper clips and sheets, turned the book over – so that it was now lying face up. As expected, the cover didn’t tell me anything.

- Ah that, – said Jane. – So what? I wasn’t even thinking...

This didn’t make any difference to me, but I was in no mood to keep pestering her about that. After all, it was one of those subconscious things you can never find time or will to resolve. Just one of those things about Jane: she always put books face down. Always. I tried to explain that to myself numerous times, but all that far-fetched Freudian drivel got me nowhere. As for those rare moments when I cared to catch Jane red-handed, she would blink, blush, babble and then tell me that she wasn’t even thinking. Well, okay.

- You did it the day we met. Funnily enough, I actually found that quite attractive. You remember?

She didn’t reply, which seemed a little annoying. Jane’s silence tended to have this long-lasting odour of petulance, and this time it could mean anything: she had been offended; she didn’t remember; she was too immersed in her study to take heed of my ramblings about the day we met. Finally, it could also mean that I hadn’t actually said anything. Part-deafened, part-weakened by silence, I pricked up my ears and looked around. Four or five waxen, bespectacled human ghosts were solemnly scattered about the room. I watched how noiselessly they were leafing through dilapidated chunks of monographs and encyclopedias and thought that pornographic magazines wouldn't have made any difference there. In the meantime, the room sucked everything in, black hole style, and I couldn’t get the evidence I was after: the air contained no echoes of my question. Also, my mouth felt hollow and bored. Had I perhaps dreamt it?..

So this time I made sure my voice shattered the paries of that drowsy, sparsely furnished womb:

- Maybe you need some help, Jane? I could do something, you know.

- Yeah? – she said blankly. – Like what?

As a matter of fact, I was quite useless in a place like that. I may have appreciated libraries for what they were, but reference rooms never failed to wear me down with their sickening, scientific hangover. And Jane’s work? I knew it was some sort of medical research and I did hear the word ‘neurology’ pop up here and there in her frequent telephone conversations, but that was as far as it went. It’s not that I didn’t care – it was the case of her research being incomprehensible to anyone outside of a small circle of specialists that were either dead or dying. Or that’s what I thought. 

- Well, I don’t know. I could, you know…

- I know. These desks are awful, aren’t they?

- Desks?

- Low, disgusting little buggers. What kind of varnish is that anyway? – With an expression of utter, unequivocal contempt, Jane peeled some of it off with her fingernail. – I absolutely detest these desks.

And then looking at me:

- Honestly, Luke, why are you here? You’d be better off outside.

- Come on, Jane. You know I can't stand umbrellas...

My words must have been too blasphemously loud, for the next instant some bald head shrugged, twisted, turned and peered into our direction. A two-second fatwa if there ever was one.

- You haven’t forgotten about Glenn, have you? – Jane’s experienced half-whisper was measured and well-rehearsed.

She was right. I had to meet Glenn in about 15 minutes. Well, we had to meet him, or, to be even more precise, she had to meet Glenn, but it looked like there was no end to this dreary library morning. What was the Internet for anyway?..


I stepped outside, took out a cigarette and seconds later forced myself to squeeze it back into the half-full pack. I don’t think this had anything to do with Jane’s words – more like a vague, traitorous aftermath of yesterday’s headache.

The rain had stopped, but looking at wet pavements and cars as well as people, still carrying their skeptical, disbelieving umbrellas, you could almost hear discordant raindrops poking at the puddles and at your shoulders. I shrugged and thought about tonight. I didn’t really want to go. I wanted to stay at home, maybe make some semi-urgent phone calls, maybe read something, maybe go to bed a little earlier. Besides, Glenn was Jane’s friend (former boyfriend, I presumed – though she denied), so what did it all have to do with me? I never cared for all that twee indie scene anyway. Having said that, it was my decision. And I wasn’t feigning jealousy either – I was genuinely concerned about leaving them together. Even though Jane had long stopped practicing the flute, I still dreaded that lame ‘come on, play with us some time’ stuff.

When Jane emerged from the gruesome, humourless door of the library, Glenn hadn’t come yet. Jane looked good and, unlike me, amazingly fresh; I always admired that inherent cheerfulness that covered up the bad varnish of library desks and all those numerous anxieties and insecurities she put herself through.

- He is late, – she said.

- Two minutes. Do you think you could forgive him?

Jane smiled:

- No, I don’t think I could. Luke, what’s with you and Glenn? Why all the hatred?

- Hatred? I think he is a pompous prick, yes, but I don’t hate him. Honestly.

- That’s just silly, – said Jane. – You have to get over it. Besides, it’s only you. Glenn, on the contrary...

- Big deal, – I said, fighting off the temptation (my seventh that morning) of taking out the cigarette pack. – What’s the name of his band again?

- The Street Queens.

- Jesus, – I said.

Jane looked at her watch again and whispered with hushed hurriedness:

- Be nice.

I followed her stare and saw Glenn’s smug silhouette approaching us from a distance. Dressed in the most dramatic black and carrying a huge silver object that looked more like a rifle or a particularly overblown phallic symbol than a guitar case. As ever, Glenn made a perfect impersonation of a shaggable junkie making daisy-chains.

- Oh hi! – he said. – Not late, am I?

- You are, – said Jane, which made my insides shake with hysterical, uncontrollable laughter.

- Sorry about that. – You wouldn’t tell it from the expression on his face, though. No, the guy knew fuck-all about being sorry. – How is your research?

- Desks are not up to her standards, – I said grimly. – The varnish is peeling off.

Glenn had no idea what I was talking about, but he smiled just in case and began talking us through the evening’s set list. As if we were two starstruck journalists who were lucky enough to bully him in a parking lot.

Incidentally, those were my last words for quite some time. Because that was when the tingling in my chest started. The tingling, I now imagine, began the moment the rain returned: the sort of soft, smarmy rain that could get you all soaked through in a matter of ten minutes, without you even noticing. The rain bleached Glenn’s hair black, and I saw how the sticky locks got all messed up on his head. I saw the huge eyes, the subtle features, the tight jeans, the leather jacket, the self-conscious mannerisms; I heard that lovelorn, smoky baritone that falsely betrayed romantic rockabilly. I felt I was getting breathlessly, physically weak.

I was no longer following their conversation, I lost track of all those songs his band would be playing tonight (not that the titles could tell me anything), and half an hour later could only remember Glenn pretentiously humming that old Dylan punchline “won’t you come see me, Queen Jane?” while handing me the tickets. I didn’t throw up at that, I didn’t even wince – I just took the tickets and nodded.

- Well, got to be off. Final rehearsal. And remember, any place you like. Just mention my name.

I let that one slip past me, too.

- Why didn’t you answer? – said Jane when we were alone. – Come on, Luke, that was just plain rude!

- Answer? – I said. – Answer what?

- When he asked you about the short piece on his band that you had once promised?..


The rest of that afternoon dragged on as a somewhat pointless, unnecessary run-up to Glenn's concert. The run-up we were supposed to fill with fragments of anemic small talk and wasteful activities. We had a rather routine lunch at an uninvitingly empty Indian place, we did some perfunctory shopping and then popped into our flat to drop the bags and change into something more appropriate. ‘It’s a club, so think of something’, said Jane, and then noted the expression on my face.

- Are you all right? Luke?

- Yeah, – I said. – I am. Come on, we don’t want to be late.

How could I possibly tell Jane that no, I wasn’t all right? That I was full of shameful, sick elation and that my heart was prancing like a rabid pony? That I couldn’t stop thinking about the way the rain kept dripping through Glenn’s hair at the library steps several hours ago? And, finally, how could I tell her about the tingling?..


We weren’t late. In fact, before we had the chance to take on The Street Queens, we took our time to gape at random groups of fey, effeminate students and thuggish, booming, larger-than-life bohemians who were staggering around the entrance of the club, discussing Animal Collective, The Dark Knight Rises and oral sex. Quite ridiculously, the disjointed fits of half-heard bawdiness and premature drunkenness made me all the more excited. My Joe Strummer styled wardrobe blended well with that sort of crowd, and the scenes pleasantly reminded me of my rare Flaming Stars outings.

- Jane, – I said, sneaking the crumpled, creased pack out of my jacket. – I’m awfully sorry but I will just do it. Come to think of it, it might have been this damned restraint that caused yesterday's headache. Besides, we still have ten minutes.

I could see she didn’t like that, but it was not like she was going to say no.


Minutes later the god-awful sound quality and the astonishingly piss-poor chemistry of Glenn’s band were driving me up the wall. Still, I enjoyed the prime, primordial feeling, and couldn’t look away. The small stage was crammed (the drum kit alone took up a good half of it) with four young men struggling to get all the chops they could out of the limited space and cheap instruments. Some failed, some failed miserably, but those didn't include Glenn. Glenn was electrifying, his fiery riffs and solos salvaged all that was poor and subpar, and looking at him I felt confused, bewildered, demoralized.

- What’s the name of that song? – I shouted into Jane’s ear at some point. – It’s brilliant!

- You really think so? – she shouted back. – It’s a cover of The Magnetic Fields. It’s not theirs. The song’s called “Andrew In Drag”.

I didn’t know the song, but he badly needed that article and I'd heard of the band. Well, at the very least this was something to go by. A decent, fairly reasonable excuse. Something to discuss after the show, in the buzzing, laidback, smoked-out dressing room...

...However, the moment the final ballad drifted away from our clayed and clogged ears, Jane took me by the hand, jerked me past the barbed wires of shaking bodies and shuffling feet and into the cool, uninfected air of the streets. She said she had an important paper to finish.

As we were walking home, I felt that tingling had long turned into throbbing that was presently crawling up and down my back, stomach, chest. I thought about Milk, that Oscar-winning film I had recently seen; I thought about Larry Kramer’s Faggots that I had not finished and that was still languishing embarrassingly in my office desk; I remembered our recent argument about some odd Dutch couple and how Jane claimed that they should never be allowed to adopt. “We’re talking about marriage here, – she said. – It’s just wrong”. And how it struck me that despite all that intense medical reason going through her life, Jane simply considered it ‘wrong’. I thought about all that, again and again. I thought about coincidences and then I thought about impossible coincidences. I thought of the implications. I thought of Jane’s medical books that could perhaps help me. I thought of millions of other things that could distract me from being so lost, scared and confused.


In bed, we briefly discussed the concert (Jane liked it significantly less than me) and the sort of people who attended it. To drown out the tingling, or, worse, make it more palpable, I told her how near the club I overheard a group teenagers arguing about sex.

- And? – said Jane. 

- One of them insisted that kissing, not sex, is where it's at. Can you imagine that?

Jane chuckled as a way of reply, and I thought that I couldn’t hold it any longer.

- Jane, I know this is odd, inappropriate and even disgusting, but I think I just have to tell you.

- Tell me what?

- I like him. – Well, it was a lot easier than I’d imagined.

- Who? Glenn?

- Yes.

She turned to me in the dark and said:

- Well, I can’t say that I’m surprised. He is a great guy. So you will write that thing in the end?

- No, Jane, you don’t understand. I really like him.

- I like him too, Luke.

- Do you? – I asked. – And did you?

- Yes, – said Jane. – But it’s not what you think. Don’t you know? Glenn is gay.


Who was it that once wrote that cities at night are full of men crying in their sleep? It was one of those inexplicable things that had stuck with me, but it took this night to realise that there comes a time when you have to join those whining, sniveling hoards. And so I guess it could hardly amount to much that it was my turn. Only this wasn’t a bad dream, this wasn’t a nightmare, even though minutes later, on the kitchen floor, I was desperately pinching my cheeks and pulling my hair.

- Something’s wrong? – asked Jane when a silent scream inside my body dragged me out of bed.

- I need to drink, – I said. Which may have been true.

In the kitchen I deemed chairs too good for my present state, and dropped on the cold, tiled floor instead. I think I was whimpering. How could I possibly miss it? How could I never notice? It must have been so blatant, so obvious. Glenn: his talk, his manners, his clothes. And then the whole thing broke loose: The Street Queens, that Austrian crackpot I'd been reading lately, Jane saying “you have to get over it” earlier that day… All was falling into place, but investigative journalism, however successful, is not what you need in real life. This couldn’t have been happening to me. Simply because this couldn’t have been happening to anyone.

Jane quietly tip-toed into the kitchen and X-rayed me right to the guts by switching on the monstrously pungent night-time light.

- God, Luke, what’s wrong with you today?

I just shook my head – it was the best I could do.

- Maybe you need to smoke? Really, Luke. – And then after a pause. – You are not laughing, are you?

I didn’t answer. I couldn’t answer. So it wasn't whimpering in the end, it really was laughter: mad, fitful, hysterical.

- What’s wrong with you? – she asked again.

- I don’t know, Jane, – my laughter ending as abruptly as it had started. – I really don’t know. I guess I just… love you.

Jane switched off the light, turned invisible and approached my crouching figure. Then she knelt down and kissed me on the forehead.

This was the moment the tingling stopped, and I finally had the chance to cry. For real, at night, like a man.


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